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While every NFL team’s playbook has the same staples, there’s always room for innovation. Some offensive coordinators love to rely on the run; other head coaches, like Andy Reid, have no problem passing fifty times a game. Most teams, however, probably don’t spend much time on trick plays. The Miami Dolphins are an exception to that rule.

The Miami Dolphins have a reputation for running successful trick plays.
Why are the Miami Dolphins’ fake plays so successful? | Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

While longtime football fans will remember Dan Marino’s fake spike, Miami pulled another rabbit out of their hat on Sunday. A large part of the play’s success is due to one man: Danny Crossman.

The Miami Dolphins’ Mountaineer Shot

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles headed down to Miami. While most NFL fans were expecting a blowout, the Miami Dolphins came to play. They stated their intent early and hung tough from then on.

Towards the end of the first half, the Dolphins found themselves facing a fourth down on the one-yard line. While they sent out the field goal unit, they didn’t line up for a standard kick. Punter Matt Haack and center Daniel Kilgore lined up alone in the middle of the field; everyone else split out wide towards either sideline.

When Kilgore snapped the ball, Philadelphia’s defense was unsure how to attack. Everyone stood around for a second, before charging the defenseless punter; he remained calm, however, and flipped the ball to kicker Jason Sanders for a go-ahead touchdown.

While the play, which is dubbed the Mountaineer Shot after Kilgore’s alma mater, seemed like a moment of insanity, it was anything but. The Dolphins have actually practiced the play countless times, thanks to their creative special teams coach.

The Miami Dolphins’ mad scientist on special teams

Special teams play is often overlooked by the casual football fan. After Sunday’s highlight-reel play, however, Dolphins special teams coach Danny Crossman is finally getting some credit.

While most teams might have a couple of trick plays tucked into their back pocket for emergencies, Crossman hasn’t been afraid to expand the playbook. This season, he’s broken out onside kicks, fake punts, and everything in between. Sunday’s Mountaineer Shot was a riff on a play that the Dolphins ran earlier this year; Crossman knew that the Eagles would have scouted his run-based fake field goal from earlier in the season, so he switched it to a pass.

Beyond the result on the field, Crossman’s trick plays also have a rallying effect on his squad.“Any time a team gets a play like that, it’s going to spark some guys,” Haack explained. “A lot of teams practice fakes but don’t run them so the fact that we executed one, everyone is going to be excited for it.” That excitement and self-belief helped Miami take home a win on Sunday.

How Danny Crossman pushes the playcalling envelope

Given Crossman’s affinity for trick plays, the Eagles knew that something wacky would be thrown at them on Sunday. All that preparation, however, didn’t pay off.

“We knew that coming in here that this is one of the more sort of gadget plays special teams coordinators and teams that we have faced, and our guys were prepared during the week for anything they presented us,” coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “Again, just great execution on their part.”

While that quote might sound relatively benign, it may highlight why the Dolphins have success with trick plays. Danny Crossman uses them as a legitimate, executable weapon rather than a pure gimmick. While opposing teams know they have to prepare for unique looks, it’s hard to be ready for everything; the Eagles, for example, were ready for a run, but couldn’t counter a shovel pass.

In the NFL, every team has a fairly even talent level; working smarter, not harder, like Danny Crossman and the Dolphins, is a way to gain an advantage on Sundays.